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How Canadian Elections Perpetuate Islamphobia Amid Niqab Controversy

How Canadian Elections Perpetuate Islamphobia Amid Niqab Controversy

Here in Canada, we are home to the Maple leaf. When fall comes around, this prominent leaf starts to gradually change its colors. It goes from its natural colors to a bright yellow, to a warm orange and then to a fierce red. It’s almost as if all the trees are on fire. It takes our breath away and it is at this point that we Canadians feel incapable of looking at anything else but at the trees who stare right back at us, demanding our undivided attention and admiration.

Fall came a little early this year. While nature transformed and revealed its true colors rapidly, so did the conservative Canadian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Whereas previously the average Canadian didn’t worry too much about what was going on in Ottawa, Harper’s words and policies, like the red maple leaves of this season, grabbed everyone’s attention — especially the visible minorities of Canada. Most of us realized that we were in for a big winter storm.

Prime Minister Harper doesn’t seem to understand the concept of freedom of choice, freedom of religion or freedom of expression.

On Saturday evening, my family and I were dining at a restaurant in the greater Toronto area when an apparently white-looking man came up to our table and said “I’m sorry.”

My cousin’s first thought was that this man had crashed our car in the parking lot and now he was apologizing — but to our surprise, he said, “I’m sorry about the way our government is treating people like her,” as he pointed to my mother.

My face immediately lit up. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. You see, my mother is a niqabi. She covers her face with a veil when in public and around men who are not her mahram (In Islam, a woman’s husband and any un-marriageable kin, including her father, grandfather, brother, son, uncle, nephew and father-in-law are her mahrams).

“The government shouldn’t be able to tell anyone what to wear and what not to wear. What, are they going to tell me to take off this jacket I’m wearing just because they don’t like it? No,” he concluded.

Before discussing the prime minister’s controversial stance on the niqab, it is important to note that veiling of the face has been a topic of debate in the Muslim community too. Some scholars claim that the niqab is a religious obligation, while others counter that the niqab is not mandatory,
but is available as an extra step for women who want to wear it. Their arguments are based on differing interpretations of Quranic verses and hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad).

Nonetheless, both schools of thought agree that it is solely a woman’s choice if she wants to cover her face or not, as according to Chapter 2, verse 256 of the Quran: “There is no compulsion in religion.”

What better way to win votes than to politicize the wearing of the niqab and encourage islamophobia among a people who are already scared by the media’s irresponsible reporting on Islam?

Prime Minister Harper, however, doesn’t seem to understand the concept of freedom of choice, freedom of religion or freedom of expression (I could go on forever). According to him, the niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-woman.”  

He thinks that by opposing the niqab, he is liberating Muslim women. I would argue that nothing is more liberating than living in a country that gives you the freedom to do whatever you want with your face, your hair, your body and everything else because it’s yours. Harper and his gang are the force of oppression here.

In 2011, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism (ironic, I know) announced that individuals must expose their face at citizenship ceremonies. By June of 2015, the Harper government had introduced the Oath of Citizenship Act, which banned the wearing of the niqab while take the oath of citizenship.

A Muslim woman, Zunera Ishaq, challenged this law because she claimed that it violated the rights given to her in the Citizenship Act, which guarantees maximum amount of religious freedom during citizenship ceremonies. The case went to court and obviously, Ishaq won. This ruling came out last month — a little more than 30 days away from the Federal Elections that will take place today, on Oct. 19.


Zunera Ishaq took her oath of citizenship with her niqab on Oct. 9, 2015.

Psychologists agree that fear is one of our most powerful motivators. It makes us uncomfortable and triggers our instinctual defensive system. Harper and his government are, of course, aware of this reality.

What better way to win votes than to politicize the wearing of the niqab and encourage islamophobia among a people who are already scared by the media’s irresponsible reporting on Islam and groups like ISIS?

Well, it turns out that fear-mongering works. Like the colorful fall leaves that become the focal point of everyone’s attention, the niqab controversy turned everyone’s heads in the same direction. The topic spread like wildfire all across the country in a matter of days.

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While most people remained civil and debated the issue in respectful ways, a few Canadians chose to react violently. We witnessed an overt rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the past month. On Oct. 1, 2015, a pregnant Muslim woman wearing the hijab(only head-covering) was physically attacked in the province of Québec. On Oct. 4, Safira Merriman, a Muslim convert who wears the niqab was also physically attacked in Toronto. On Oct. 7, a Muslim woman was verbally abused by an Islamophobic and racist man in the famous Eaton Centre of Toronto. Clearly, there is a pattern here.

I wear the hijab and I have honestly never felt uncomfortable walking with it on my head as I go to the nearest Tim Hortons or as I walk past the CN tower in Toronto — until now. I feel as if all eyes are on me and that perhaps somebody in the crowd of Canadians around me despises the religious symbol of worship on my head. I tell myself that I’m probably wrong. The reason I got treated with disrespect for the first time by a bus driver can’t be my hijab.

Canadians don’t hate — we’re the nicest people around. But then I remind myself that it would be a ridiculous act of naïveté and stupidity for me to believe that Harper’s consistent and inflammatory promotion of hateful and discriminatory legislation is not going to have repercussions. It has indeed incited negative reactions and I predict that it will continue doing so until Election Day. The leaves have turned a threatening red and I don’t expect them to shed off anytime soon.

When Harper addressed the House of Commons on the niqab he said, “We don’t allow people to cover their faces during citizenship ceremonies and why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice at that time that is not transparent, that is not transparent, and frankly is rooted in a culture that is anti-women?”

Well my question is Mr. Harper, when you say you don’t “allow” people to contradict “our values,” are you talking about about your own racist, discriminatory and Islamophobic values or are you talking about Canadian values?

Because as far as I’m concerned, Canadian values were epitomized by the man who came to my family’s table and told us that Canada and Canadians are better than what you’re doing. We are tolerant, supportive and we stand shoulder to shoulder against leaders like you who want to divide us. Frankly, that’s not my Canada.


Written by Khalood Kibria

Image: Google

View Comments (38)
  • i agree you should be allowed to wear anything you want. but I also agree that a business should be allowed to restrict someone from entering it with their face covered. also, how do you get a driver license photo taken? how do you get on a plane?

  • I travel East and West often. Have lived in different cultures. I get the impression that many people, mostly in the West, are intimidated by the resolute confidence Muslims have in their faith.

    Non-believers, especially the Atheists, demonstrate covert anxiety, even envy and jealousy when they see this absolute confidence, acceptance and submission by Muslims to their God.

          • I started with computer science engineering degree in computer science from MIT. I am studying forensics, profiling from raw data as part of my doctorate work.

            I am attempting to design systems and programing, predict and project peoples behavior from disparate data and information publicly obtainable. This will input into my doctorate theses expected to be completed in about three years.

            My team consists of varied talents with retainers to professionals in many disciplines. Study of people, and religions is part of it. Muslims are in my team. I have a grant for this project.

    • Non-Muslims and the “wrong” kinds of Muslims living in Muslim majority countries or other countries with serious on-going violent jihads are the ones who have the most reason to feel anxious about devout Muslims, and not because of their confidence or submission to their god, but because of the body counts of non-Muslims and minority Muslims sect members which devout Muslims are running up in their jihads in places like Libya, Iraq, Syria, the Philippines, Egypt, Kenya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, etc.

      As an atheist, I do occasionally feel a tinge of jealously for Christian god believers for the comfort they can take about people “going to a better place” when they and their loved ones die, or the comfort they can derive from the placebo of prayer, but mainstream Islam is too harsh and puritanical of an ideology for me to ever be jealous of Muslim believers. The five-times-per-day groveling to allah alone is enough to make me glad I’m not a Muslim.

      • wrong” kinds of Muslims living in Muslim majority countries what about wrong kind of non muslims or militant atheists for that matter. Reading bible and old testament makes me glad I am not a christian and bigotry of atheists(see your own statement does a thirteen year old Mary getting pregnant from the son of god or god himself merit celebration) makes me glad I am not one either. I know you would say something to me as well but then again different sects has different versions of sme history but same Quran. Christians are unanimous on what I said apart from few apologetics ofcourse. Many christians living in lebanon and various non muslim head of states in muslim majority countries like Burkina Faso and many others over period of time also people like Aslihassan abade the first fighter pilot in SOMALIAN AIRFORCE or for that matter many leaders like Benazir Bhutto, Megawati Sukarnoputri, etc and two other current muslim women head of states presently running the countries I feel the bias among non muslims against Islam. After reading bible and seeing many things I feel glad I am not a christian.

        • I gather you’re a Muslim and you disagree with something I said, but your limited ability to communicate in English is going to be a problem if you want to argue about it.

          No, a thirteen year-old getting pregnant is not something to celebrate, nor is nine-year old Aisha getting raped by a middle-aged pedophile.

          • Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father.” 33So they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.34On the following day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father.”… BROUGHT TEARS TO MY EYES SUCH DEVOTION FROM LOVELY DAUGHTERS in Bible

          • it is not? then who says it? is not the deification of jesus considered a corruption of the new testament? if the old testament isn’t considered corrupted by islam, then your prophet lut had sex with his daughters.

          • I said Islam says that bible and OT both are one and the same by the way one is a set and other a subset are corrupted. It does not agree that Lot slept with his daughters

          • ok. baby steps to reason. you do know there is a booming hymen replacement industry in Europe, mostly dealing with muslim women.

            but it does say this:

            The Koran

            The Light

            In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

            [24.1] (This is) a chapter which We have revealed and made obligatory and in which We have revealed clear communications that you may be mindful.
            [24.2] (As for) the fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them, (giving) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for them detain you in the matter of obedience to Allah, if you believe in Allah and the last day, and let a party of believers witness their chastisement.
            [24.3] The fornicator shall not marry any but a fornicatress or idolatress, and (as for) the fornicatress, none shall marry her but a fornicator or an idolater; and it is forbidden to the believers.

          • can a muslim remain a muslim if he follows what is being done in aceh. did you mean to say if he does NOT?
            the bible is full of the same non-sense as the Koran. I’m not a Christian. there is no god, so no, my body doesn’t belong to a non existent entity.
            in god we trust was put on money in the 50s to fight the godless communist. same with ‘under god’ in the pledge. both should be removed.
            ok, Burkina faso is 60% muslim. big deal, lmao. that is the one country you can find, really scraping the bottom of the country barrel there. so where is this sheikh hasina? the African powerhouse of Gabon?
            I’m sure we killed lots of muslims during our occupation after the Spanish American war. McKinley’s biggest mistake was keeping the Philippines. and Puerto Rico too.

          • Followed by
            And those who accuse chaste women and then do not produce four witnesses – lash them with eighty lashes and do not accept from them testimony ever after. And those are the defiantly disobedient,

          • yes, more lashing. so if a woman accuses a man of rape, does she have to produce 4 male witnesses?

          • Blow up for muslim reasons not, during her tenure they did not kill her. totally different thing. Tell me the names of woman head of states currently who are muslim also non muslim head of states of Muslim Majority countries

          • they didn’t kill her during her tenure? was was she running for re-election. are you sure? I thought she won and they blew her up and now her husband is in charge?

            “Tell me the names of woman head of states currently who are muslim also non muslim head of states of Muslim Majority countries” I know of no non muslims heads of states in muslim majority states, either male or female. nor can I name any current female muslim heads of state.
            then again I can only name merkel as a female head of any state. I think Liberia has a female leader and argentina and brasil have women in charge. (kristner [that is certainly misspelled] and maybe da silva’s wife) I think three of the 4 Scandinavian counties have women in charge, but I couldn’t name them to save my life.
            enlighten me. what non muslims women lead muslim majority nations?
            or rather tell me what non muslims, period, male or female, lead a muslim majority country?

          • Try Burkina Faso. Even Goodluck Johnathan or perhaps Lebanon or even some North African states. There you will find Prime Minister and President or sometimes both acting presently or acted once upon a time

          • burkina faso is half muslim and half Christian. I read their wiki page last year after they burned down their parliament. don’t recall who is the leader. and it says there is a saying there: ‘Burkina faso is 50% muslim, 50% Christian and 100% animist’. same with Nigeria. muslims in the north and Christians in the south. btw goodluck just lost an election. the new guy in Nigeria is Muhammad something.
            are you telling me that Lebanon no longer does their power sharing with a sunni as the top dog and a shia as vice and Christian in some position of power, president maybe?
            morocco has a king. Algeria would never let a non-muslim be incharge. Libya is a mess. Egypt has had a military guy since Nasser died, other than morsi for a little while, and he was a MB guy. Tunisia did have an isalmist government that stepped down after a couple killings of secularists. but north Africa has no non muslim leaders and no females that I know of.

      • yeah true. But let me ask you another thing is christianity limited to thirteen year old getting pregnant or does it not venture into what like Lot sleeping with both of his teenage daughters. If people find relief in such kind of Ideology than how can you find solace in such kind of thing. Albeit aisha is not mentioned in Quran but same cannot be said about the bible. So keeping that in mind as for that matter exploits of Joshua how can you justify your hate muslims just on the basis of what is written in Quran when christian themselves are at the mercy of bible which is by the way is more mysogynist and RAPIST.Read what tribes of Israel did to people of Ai. CRAZY STILL YOU SAY As an atheist, I do occasionally feel a tinge of jealously for Christian god believers for the comfort they can take about people “going to a better place” when they and their loved ones die, or the comfort they can derive from the placebo of prayer. HYPOCRITE FOR YOUR OWN CULTURE. I AM DAMN SURE IT IS BECAUSE YOUR PARENTS ARE CHRISTIAN AND CELEBRATE A THIRTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL GETTING PREGNANT. I hope aisha is not 18 because the marriage at that time was consensual just because some text written after two hundred years of prophets death said so. I dont think mary pregnancy was consensual and I think american people are going to be degraded for that just because its motto is In Abrahamic god we trust. As a third person looks a very christian statement In go we trust. Does it mean Average american follows the same kind of bible I read long ago. If so you have no morally higher ground. It would have been better ofcourse if you had not attacked and meddled in internal affairs of muslim population.nine-year old Aisha getting raped by a middle-aged pedophile A DECENT THOUGHT FOR A HYPOCRITE ONLY IF YOU HAD KNOWN PROPHET HAD ONLY SEVEN OR EIGHT CHILDREN WITH MAJORITY OF THEM BEING THEM FROM ONLY ONE CALLED KHADIJAH.

        • Do you know that “atheist” is not a Christian denomination? And do you know that not being jealous of Muslims isn’t the same as hating Muslims?

          I told you that your limited ability to communicate in English would be a problem if you want to argue about something.

          • Yup I know that atheism which is a philosophy that rejects existence of god but the very fact majority of atheists act like apologists for judeo-christian faith amazes me. For instance your statement regarding christianity which by the way textually is not very different from Islam proves it. Sometimes I wonder is it due to your christian heritage that you showed this bias. You said but “mainstream Islam is too harsh and puritanical”, but is christianity not too harsh and puritanical. If you had carefully read bible there is no thing such as divorce or property for women in presence of male siblings which by the way is there in secular west and Islam. I consider christianity and Judaism as an antithesis to judeo christian principles. Also considering theoretically the bible which imposes restrictions on what you wear, your diet, your body and many more such things, I was just amazed how you could have used it as a distinguishing factor for your disliking Islam(by singling it out as more restrictive). See when both are one and the same(or in some cases different, only few) then you saying that Islam is more restrictive than christianity thats why I dislike former and like the latter does not make any kind of sense. I went on further to explain that I thought it was you being born in christian family that was responsible for this bias. If you don,t understand this too then god help you or darwin help you whatever.

          • Atheism consists of one simple belief — that there are no gods. It’s a bit of a stretch to call that single, simple belief a philosophy.

            My parents were atheists before I was born, so I wasn’t “born in a christian family.”

            I’m a student of Islam, not Christianity. I’ll let somebody who has studied both argue with you about which one sucks worse in theory. One doesn’t have to be a student of either to see which major religious ideology currently sucks the worst in practice, since it’s very clear to anyone with eyes that Islam is blowing the doors off all contenders in that competition.

          • since it’s very clear to anyone with eyes that Islam is blowing the doors off all contenders in that competition. You have eyes I meant no disrespect but OK only time will tell who destroyed and annihlated countries or those who were truly the oppressors

          • If I had a clue what point you were trying to make there and thought it response-worthy, I might respond.

      • “The five-times-per-day groveling to allah alone is enough to make me glad I’m not a Muslim.”
        And yet you are on a Muslim site…what gives? What attraction–love hate, as is obvious–do you have for Muslims and Islam? Cognitive dissonance?

        • I’m a student of Islam, and I missed the “no infidels allowed” sign.

          “Cognitive dissonance” would imply that there is something contradictory about a student of Islam reading an article or posting on a Muslim-oriented website. There isn’t.

          I also occasionally read The Guardian and BBC websites, even though I’m not British, Haaretz even though I’m not Israeli, the Christian Science Monitor even though I’m not Christian, and the Daily Kos even though I’m not “progressive.” Do you avoid reading stuff which comes from a different perspective than yours or which might conflict with your beliefs?

          Are you afraid I might taint the site with my atheism, like a kafirah sneaking into Mecca to befoul it with her unbelief?

      • Just a question: are any of you who are arguing about what the Quran says, what the ruling of adultery is, what the ruling of niqab is, how the status of a woman is held in Islam, or who the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) is, a muslim? If not, then I highly suggest that you go educate yourselves on the what Islam is truly about. I highly suggest that you stop feeding off of the news that fabricates stories about Islam as well as other faiths and beliefs fora living and instead go pick up a book written by educated scholars in the religion of Islam. If you do not wish to follow these suggestions, then please refrain from spreading false facts and lies about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) because what you say is misleading, inaccurate, and offensive. As the old saying goes, if you have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.

        • I get my knowledge of Islam from reading canonical Islamic scripture like the koran, Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, not “fabricated news.” I’m going to keep speaking truth to Islam. I do have some unkind things to say about it and its inventor, and I’m going to keep saying them if you don’t mind — and even if you do. In fact, nothing motivates to discuss Islam more than people telling me I mustn’t.

          If you don’t like people saying unkind things your favorite prophet or the ideology he invented, you could try getting yourself a new favorite prophet, or you could refrain from interacting with the free world.

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